What is the summit of the concert pianist's career? Not winning a piano competition, touring, landing a professorship, or even signing a recording contract, but performing (and if you're lucky, recording) all 32 piano sonatas of Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827).

Scaling—and surviving—the mountain of Beethoven sonatas remains reserved for a rarefied company of pianists, including legends like Artur Schnabel and Wilhelm Kempff as well as active players like Alfred Brendel, Richard Goode, Martino Tirimo, and Seattle's own Craig Sheppard. Now at age 51, the masterly András Schiff is making the attempt.

Why Beethoven? In a recent interview, the Hungarian pianist stated, "For a pianist, it is much more difficult to approach Beethoven than Bach, Mozart, and Schubert: You are an interpreter of Bach or Mozart by birth as it were. Beethoven, though, has to be learned. These 32 sonatas always seemed to me like a suit I still had to grow into."

His first installment of Beethoven: The Complete Piano Sonatas (ECM) ranks with his esteemed recordings of Bach, Mozart, Schubert, and Bartók. Schiff is surefootedly precise and tender without being smarmy. He understands that Beethoven's piano sonatas act as a sonic timeline of the composer's growth from a grubby student of Haydn and Mozart to a musical trailblazer who ushered in the Romantic Age.

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For this Seattle stop, the first concert in the UW's annual President's Piano series, Schiff bundles two Beethoven sonatas, No. 16 and No. 21 (better known as the "Waldstein") with three pieces by Haydn: a frolicsome capriccio on "Acht Sauschneider müssen sein," the Sonata No. 53 in E minor, and the Variations in F minor. Pre-concert talk starts at 7:15 p.m. CHRISTOPHER DeLAURENTI

András Schiff performs Wed Oct 19 (Meany Theater, UW Campus, 543-4880), 8 pm, $45.

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